Well I wasn’t panicking until my friend – let’s call her Friend on the Verge of Hysteria – came round yesterday and scooched into the kitchen shedding holly leaves and Quality Street wrappers and looked at me with wildly staring eyes.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, doing pretty much nothing. I’d been doing pretty much nothing all day, apart from some quite focused lolling about. I am hoping to improve my lolling-about skills this Christmas holidays; it’s something we can all strive to get better at I think.
Actually it wasn’t the lolling about that sent her over the edge. This is after all a woman with whom I have spent much of the last eight years lolling about with various intervals to give birth to children and open packets of food for them and so on.
What really set her off was that I was straightening my hair.
‘Number 6! For God’s sake! Stop straightening your hair!’
I did as she was asking, for a moment. After all she seemed very insistent and I thought that there must be a good reason for her imperative tone. Perhaps the straighteners were on fire for example. Or she had just noticed a small creature nestling in my head about to get smoothed and flattened.
‘There’s no time for that! IT’S CHRISTMAS!’
Well let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that there’s always time to straighten my hair, because I learned long ago that the natural look isn’t for me. Left to its own devices my hair has no sense at all of my image as a dignified and sophisticated woman. It clusters around my head in shaggy uneven clumps like Dill the dog from The Herbs caught in a humid climate.
More pertinently, it ISN’T Christmas. Not quite. At this point, it was a few long days before Christmas. I guess I should, probably, have been working on writing the rest of my Christmas cards*, maybe, but other than that there really wasn’t anything all that pressing to do.
But a few hours in the company of Friend on the Verge of Hysteria and I was starting to get dragged close to the edge of hysteria myself. That’s the thing about hysteria – especially the Christmas variety. It’s terribly contagious.
So when she left I found myself pulled to visit the supermarket to do the Big Shop. My days lolling around the kitchen table browsing the paper and drinking cups of tea were over; I was on the Merry go Round of Christmas Ridiculousness and I was not going to be able to get off until New Year.
It started in the fruit and veg aisle and it started like this:
‘Oh yeah a packet of fresh cranberries! Good idea. I’ll pop those in the trolley and make some cranberry sauce. ‘
WHAT? What the JEFF am I thinking? I don’t even massively like cranberry sauce myself and all the people around my Christmas table would be perfectly happy with a spoonful of Hartleys if I will insist on making them eat jam with their turkey.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the excess of food and drink consumption at Christmas that I object to. I am wholeheartedly in favour of that kind of endeavour. It’s something I can get right behind. Drinking Cava at 11 in the morning and Matchmakers for breakfast – yes. Yes and a Happy New Year too.
But this ever-increasing expectation that we should be all hand crafting our Christmases from raw ingredients otherwise we are somehow cheating our families out of the REAL Christmas experience.
I am not naïve; I know that this is a function of the dying days of capitalism**. We’re all trying to buy and sweat ourselves back to such mythical, magical childhood Christmas when we were happy and create that for our own families. And that means, for some reason, elaborate Gingerbread houses and a colour-coordinated Christmas tree in each room and fourteen kinds of cheese and five types of fiddly canapés for your guests and brussel sprouts sauted with panacetta and guest-worthy tables settings and so many presents under the tree that it looks ready to topple over.
Yet even as we’re doing all this, spinning on this merry-go-round of overconsumption and vast overspending, even at the time we know it’s not what really makes Christmas magical and memorable. It’s certainly nothing resembling my own childhood Christmases, with a stubby Christmas tree like a wonky toilet brush and one set of Woolworths Christmas lights and a drinks tray made appropriately festive by being wrapped in foil. Whatever we’re creating, it’s not the past, or certainly not any past I recognise.
And who are we doing it for, really? It’s not for the children, for a start. Children aren’t impressed with homemade cranberry sauce and canapés; they want cheesy footballs and party rings. My children don’t want me in the kitchen basting and twiddling; they want me playing Guess Who for hours on end with them. God help me.
And we aren’t doing it for the men either. I was bemoaning the exhausting frantic Christmas mayhem to a male friend of mine and his response was genuine surprise. Oh, he said. I thought women enjoyed making all that effort. I thought it was what made you happy.
Well luckily he was many thousands of miles away when he said this otherwise he might have had a swift and close encounter with the festive end of Kirsty’s Home Made Decoupage Tealights. But you can see why he might think that.
So as we lurch giddily down the final few steps before collapsing on the snowy doorstep of Christmas, maybe we can try to scale back a bit. Ditch the most outrageously ridiculous parts of the Christmas preparations, and spend less time sweating in the kitchen and more time lolling on the sofa with the people we love.
Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect. Christmas will come, ready or not.
OH GOD IT’S ONLY TWO MORE DAYS.
Sorry must go. God there’s so much to DO isn’t there?
*If you are expecting a card from me well put it this way, if your surname falls between A-L you could be in luck and I swear I put a first class stamp on them. Honest. For everyone else well, er, MERRY CHRISTMAS! And, you know, sorry.
** said Number6, hopefully.